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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Despite the curbs, pharmacies continue to sell swine flu drug

Relatives of one of the two suspects for H1N1 flu wait outside the Isolation Ward at Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Chest Diseases in Bangalore on May 9.

Bangalore: Despite an advisory issued by the Union Health Ministry that says chemists in India are not authorised to sell Oseltamivir Phosphate (Tamiflu) in retail outlets, several medical stores in Bangalore are selling this medicine to people across the counters.

The Hindu found that this medicine, the only known anti-viral drug for treatment of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, was easily available in stores across the city. The staff of a popular store in Vijaynagar were even ready to sell it without a prescription from the doctor. A strip of 10 capsules manufactured by Roche, the first company that was issued a licence to manufacture the drug in India in October 2005, costs Rs. 1,700. “But we cannot give you a bill for the medicine as it is an imported drug,” a chemist at the store told this reporter.

Two other stores in Indiranagar also had the medicine on their shelves.

The Union Health Ministry’s advisory says indiscriminate use of this drug by people could result in the virus developing resistance to this only known treatment of the H1N1 influenza.

“The Government of India has adequate stock of this drug that shall be distributed free through the Public Health Network if required,” the advisory says.

The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) Surindra Singh told The Hindu over phone from Delhi that if the stores were found selling it, they would be raided and punished. “It is illegal to sell the drug in retail following the advisory as the virus could develop resistance to the drug if it is used indiscriminately. Apart from swine flu, this drug is also used as an anti-viral medicine for several other infections such avian flu (H5N1 virus) and also for poultry,” he said.

Revealing that several private hospitals had requested the Union Health Ministry to allow them to stock Tamiflu to ensure that they had adequate stocks in case of any eventuality, Dr. Singh said: “May be these chemists are giving it to their regular customers. But it is illegal.” He said he had written to all the four zonal and two sub-zonal Drug Control offices in the country to direct the State Drugs Control officials to ensure that Tamiflu is not available in medical outlets in their jurisdiction. “If it is found in Bangalore, the issue needs to be addressed by the State Drugs Controller. As there is no provision under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act as on date to restrict the sale of any drug, the advisory has been issued under the Essential Commodities Act,” he explained.

Drugs Controller of Karnataka B.R. Jagashetty said he was not aware of the advisory as he was yet to receive a copy. “But if you tell us where it is being sold, we will raid the outlets,” he said.

Principal Secretary (Health and Family Welfare) M. Madan Gopal termed the sale as illegal too. Explaining that some doctors might be prescribing it as a combination drug to treat viral infections, Mr. Gopal said: “We have noticed that most medical stores do not follow the prescribed rules and regulations. The Drugs Controller of Karnataka will initiate action against all violators.”

“We have enough stocks of the drug and will supply free to those who need it in case of an eventuality. I appeal to the people not to panic as not a single case has been tested positive for swine flu in the country,” he said.

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